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Shaping a COP26 Decision on Long-term Climate Strategies

Under the Paris Agreement, all countries are invited to communicate “long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategies” by 2020. These long-term strategies bring national climate and development agendas together, giving life to the spirit of the Paris Agreement—climate action pursued in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty.

As of November 2020, 20 Parties (representing 40 countries and 27 percent of global emissions) had formally communicated long-term strategies to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). More than 100 countries are also in the midst of preparing their long-term strategies. This is remarkable progress.

To encourage more countries to develop and submit their long-term strategies, as well as review and update them over time, political leaders and civil society must sustain international momentum for these strategies. Unlike other elements of the Paris Climate Agreement, however, there is no further guidance or clarity on long-term strategies after 2020.

This commentary identifies key elements of a robust decision on long-term strategies that could be adopted at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow in November 2021. A robust decision will ensure that long-term strategies continue to support national governments in planning for resilient, prosperous and low-emissions economies.

The global coronavirus pandemic puts long-term strategies in a new context. National governments are focused on immediate economic stimulus, creating jobs and securing household income. At the same time, national governments are also considering their medium- and long-term recovery needs. This is where economic recovery and long-term strategies can intersect.

Economic recovery plans and long-term strategies can have complementary goals focused on building long-term sustainable infrastructure, creating lasting decent jobs, building resilience to future shocks and establishing their economies as leaders in the clean industries of the future. Accordingly, work on long-term strategies should not be set aside, rather it should proceed in tandem with programs for long-term recovery.

Box 1 | Benefits of Long-term Strategies

Countries that have prepared long-term strategies highlight one or more of the following benefits of long-term strategies:

  • Set the course for near-term action. Without a long-term view, new policies and investments may be directed toward delivering incremental changes, rather than necessary structural and transformational shifts. Long-term strategies can inform short-term decisions, such that they are consistent and aligned with a long-term vision.
  • Support pathways to net-zero emissions. As of October 2020, 22 countries and the European Union have set net-zero emissions targets to be achieved by mid-century or earlier, and more than 100 countries are currently “advancing consultations on a long-term strategy for climate-neutrality.” These net-zero targets can guide the long-term strategy, where countries can explore opportunities and tradeoffs associated with the transition1.
  • Put people and livelihoods at the center. Long-term strategies provide opportunities to improve human wellbeing by reducing air pollution, increasing energy access and reducing energy costs, helping vulnerable communities exposed to climate risks, creating decent jobs and promoting robust economic growth.
  • Spark innovation and technological change. Long-term strategies identify key mitigation opportunities, as well as areas where emissions reductions may be more difficult to achieve, paving the way for more directed innovation policies.
  • Inform future investment and financial flows. Long-term strategies can send clear, predictable and long-term market signals to direct new investments in clean technologies.
  • Open up national conversations about the transitions that lie ahead. The process to elaborate long-term strategies can provide a platform for governments to engage citizens to think about the future they want, and to get themselves organized to deliver it. These strategies can start a discussion on just and equitable transitions, ensuring that livelihoods that are tied to high-emissions industries are supported in the shift toward greener activities.
  • Provide flexibility and be tailored to national circumstances. The Paris Agreement does not provide guidance on the structure and scope of long-term strategies, which has allowed them to flourish in ways that truly respond to national objectives.
  • Spur international cooperation. The Paris Agreement’s invitation to prepare long-term strategies has inspired the formation of new initiatives and commitments to address climate change. For example, the 2050 Pathways Platform and the Carbon Neutrality Coalition provide leadership, facilitate peer-to-peer exchanges and support the development of ambitious long-term strategies. The G20 Climate and Sustainability Working Group adopted long-term strategies as a key focus area in the 2018 and 2019 discussions. The Climate Ambition Alliance brings together Parties, regions, cities, businesses and investors to work toward achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.

Why is a Robust COP26 Decision on Long-term Strategies Needed?

  1. The current date to communicate a long-term strategy is attached to only a single moment in time (“by 2020,” as noted in Decision 1/CP.21. paragraph 35)—even though Article 4.19 itself is not time-bound. For Parties that have not met the original deadline, setting a new date in the COP26 decision text will provide a “moment” or timeframe for submitting long-term strategies.
  2. Long-term strategies are ideally not a one-off exercise, but rather a central component of ongoing national climate and development planning processes. Parties must be encouraged to regularly review and update their strategies to remain relevant over the next 30 years. This will help bring these strategies in line with the global goals agreed to under the Paris Agreement. Long-term strategies are a marker of Parties’ long-term ambition and a critical metric of the collective ability to meet the Paris Agreement’s temperature goal.
  3. Long-term strategies have important links to other provisions of the Paris Agreement and are particularly relevant for updating successive, more short-term nationally determined contributions (NDCs). While countries may not necessarily abandon long-term strategies without a COP26 decision, a robust decision could help to maintain international momentum. Indeed, as many studies suggest, the international climate change negotiation process is important for enhancing global ambition, trust and transparency. At COP26, Parties should consider adopting a decision and taking other steps under the provisions of the Paris Climate Agreement to amplify the role of long-term strategies after 2020.

Six Functions of a Robust COP26 Decision on Long-term Strategies

To ensure that long-term strategies continue to thrive after 2020, the COP26 decision on long-term strategies should fulfill six functions:2

1. Welcome the long-term strategies so far submitted.

The COP26 decision should appreciate the effort undertaken by many Parties to develop and submit their long-term strategies well ahead of the original invitation. This could also be done alongside a recognition of recent commitments to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions and peaking of emissions.

2. Recognize the key role that long-term strategies can play in achieving the Paris Agreement goals.

The COP26 decision should send a clear signal to all Parties about the importance of long-term strategies. As noted in Box 1, long-term strategies can offer tremendous benefits, if well-designed and implemented. Long-term strategies can help create long-term planning processes that support the achievement of the global long-term temperature goals and help set Parties on a pathway to global net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Long-term strategies can also reinforce links between development, mitigation and adaptation—the embodiment of Article 2 of the Paris Agreement.

3. Encourage the continued submission of long-term strategies.

The COP26 decision should urge all Parties to develop and submit their long-term strategies. Parties that have not developed a long-term strategy could be called upon to do so as soon as practicable, and ideally well before the synthesis report is prepared for the global stocktake,3 which will include long-term strategies.4

4. Facilitate continuous improvement.

The COP26 decision should note that long-term strategies are living documents that can be revised at any time, or at regular intervals linked with five-year cycles of the Paris Agreement. A national planning document cannot remain relevant and useful if it is unchanged over a 30-year period. (Most countries that have communicated long-term strategies plan to revise them.)

The revision should be informed by global developments (the latest available science, outcomes of the global stocktake and other relevant international processes) and national developments (technology improvements that allow greater emission reductions, better socio-economic modeling capability, updated modeling assumptions and other relevant domestic processes).

5. Underscore links with nationally determined contributions.

The COP26 decision should promote congruent short and long-term planning processes that reinforce the much-needed alignment between NDCs and long-term strategies. There are intimate connections between NDCs and long-term strategies. The non-binding and more flexible long-term strategies can provide the vision to integrate into shorter-term decisions, targets, and policymaking.

Indeed, NDCs can be viewed as the shorter-term accountability mechanism for long-term strategies. The COP26 text could even go a step further by encouraging Parties to update their long-term strategies well in advance of developing future NDCs, so that the long-term strategy provides the guiding vision that informs the new or updated NDC.

6. Encourage continued international collaboration on long-term strategies.

The COP26 decision could promote collaboration and discussion on common issues that countries are facing when developing, updating, and implementing their long-term strategies. As noted in Box 1, the original invitation to prepare long-term strategies has inspired several global efforts to support Parties in developing and implementing ambitious long-term climate and development plans.

How Long-term Strategies Relate to Other Aspects of the Paris Agreement

Long-term strategies are also relevant to other ongoing processes under the Paris Agreement, but these links have not been made explicit in all cases. While these links need not be highlighted in the decision text itself, they are worth bearing in mind as work progresses in other areas. For example:

  • Long-term strategies should be an input to the global stocktake; likewise, the outputs of the global stocktake should inform the revision of long-term strategies. The Paris Agreement introduces a global stocktake to “assess the collective progress towards achieving the purpose of this Agreement and its long-term goals.” Long-term strategies provide a key marker of national action over a mid-century timeframe and are therefore important for assessing progress toward the objectives of the Paris Agreement.
  • Long-term strategies should be an input to the periodic review, periodic assessment, and discussions under the Standing Committee on Finance. The information presented in national long-term strategies can be a useful input in (1) assessing the overall aggregated effect of the steps taken by Parties in order to achieve the long-term global mitigation goal (the periodic review); (2) assessing the adequacy and effectiveness of technology development and transfer under the Technology Mechanism (the periodic assessment); and (3) improving coherence and coordination in the delivery of climate change financing (for discussions under the Standing Committee on Finance).
  • Long-term strategies should support a just transition. Long-term strategies generally envision significant structural changes in countries’ economies to be set on a pathway toward low-emissions and climate-resilient development. With work on just transition issues gaining traction in international fora,5 the process of developing and implementing long-term strategies could usefully contribute to discussions around the transitions of workforces and communities. Countries may also wish to conduct fully-fledged assessments of social impacts associated with transition and reflect these assessments in their long-term strategies.

In conclusion, this commentary has highlighted the benefits of long-term strategies and provided recommendations for bolstering international momentum. With the year-long delay in COP26, negotiators will have time to discuss and debate the core elements of a COP decision text.

At a minimum, the decision text should recognize the important role of long-term strategies, appreciate those Parties that are already committed to this effort, and encourage all Parties to regularly review and update their strategies over time, particularly with an eye to linking up with shorter-term plans (i.e. the NDCs). A robust COP26 decision on long-term strategies will also support the UK’s core priority as COP26 President—ramping up global progress toward climate-resilient, zero-carbon economies.

Acknowledgements

Many thanks to the reviewers who provided input and improved the draft: Richard Baron, Cynthia Elliott, Taryn Fransen, Bernd Hackman, Kelly Levin, Siddharth Pathak, Clea Schumer, Henri Waisman, Yamide Dagnet and David Waskow. Special thanks also to the communications, editorial, and design team: Beth Elliott, Rocio Lower, Lawrence MacDonald, Emily Matthews, Romain Warnault, and Debby Zabarenko.

Endnotes

1 Several initiatives are supporting countries I the transition to net-zero emissions. For example, the Climate Ambition Alliance, launched at the UN Climate Action Summit in 2019, brings Parties together to accelerate the transition toward the Paris Agreement goals, including by developing net-zero long-term strategies. The Race to Zero campaign is a related initiative, launched in early 2020, to spur regions, cities, and businesses to adopt net-zero goals.
2 These recommendations are based on work done over the last four years under the Long-term Strategies Project.
3 The Paris Agreement introduces a global stocktake to “assess the collective progress towards achieving the purpose of this Agreement and its long-term goals” (Article 14.1).
4 Decision 19/CMA.1, paragraph 36(a)
5 The preamble in the Paris Agreement takes into account “the imperative of a just transition of the workforce and the creation of decent work and quality jobs, in accordance with nationally defined development priorities.” The topic of just transition receives attention through the Marrakech Partnership’s “Working Group on Just Transition and Decent Work.” The Working Group was created under the Fiji Presidency of COP23 with the “mandate to share examples and good practices on how the Paris Agreement can be implemented on the ground while promoting green jobs that are good for people, good for the environment and good for the economy.” At COP24, some leaders and Parties endorsed the Silesia Declaration, which explicitly encourages Parties to take into consideration “the issue of just transition of the workforce and the creation of decent work and quality jobs while preparing…national long-term low greenhouse gas emissions development strategies.”

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